Fort McMurray more diverse than Toronto
More than 80 languages are spoken by people living in Alberta’s oilsands region
By Andrea Huncar, CBC News Posted: Feb 17, 2016 6:00 AM MT Last Updated: Feb 18, 2016 10:43 AM MT
The 10-year-old was nervous when he first arrived in Fort McMurray a year ago from his native Nigeria, worried he would stand out from the other kids at Walter & Gladys Hill Public School.
Now he wants to take what he’s learned in one of Canada’s most diverse cities and show the rest of the world how to get along.
“It was very welcoming,” AbdulWarris said of his new school, where one-third of his classmates are also English-language learners. “And me seeing for the first time new people, new languages, new foods, seeing people dancing.”
The most recent data shows more than 80 languages are spoken in Fort McMurray. With a population of slightly more than 60,000, that makes the city more diverse, per capita, than Toronto.
“I think this is the most diverse place I’ve ever lived in my entire life,” said Mary Thomas, who arrived from Mumbai seven years ago. “I think it’s an amazingly welcoming and generous community and very, very inclusive.”
As head of the local multicultural association, Thomas has worked hard for that inclusion. She hosts a monthly webcast called “Meet the World in Wood Buffalo,” which tackles sensitive subjects such as racism and hijabs.
“In Fort McMurray, we want everybody to be able to say that to people who come here — welcome home,” Thomas said.
Among the list of achievements, companies have installed shower heads for Muslim employees to wash before prayers, and parents can download a multilingual form to communicate to schools their children’s religious dietary needs.
In May, a new welcome centre opening in the Wood Buffalo Regional Library in MacDonald Island Park’s will become a one-stop shop, connecting newcomers with the services they need.
Thomas said no community is free of racism, but in Fort McMurray people “stand up and say that’s not acceptable.”
She thinks her city could set an example for the rest of Canada.
“We don’t have small little silos that different communities make,” Thomas said. “Because of that, people settle in wherever there’s space.
“So there is no little India, no little China, little Philippines. My neighbour on the right is Korean, my neighbour on the left is from Newfoundland. And so it’s really amazing, because you have so much diversity all around.”
Babar Nawaz arrived from the Middle East eight years ago to work for Syncrude. He stayed because of Fort McMurray’s vibrant Muslim community and religious inclusivity.
According to community representative Waj Arain, the growing Muslim population has now swelled to roughly 8,000.